A Holy Union

by Simi Monheit

From Contest Judge Peter Mountford:

“Simi Monheit’s A Holy Union was a fantastic piece of slow-burn erotica – placing the reader fully within the character’s experience that we lose connection with everything outside the moment. This choice itself, the closeness between reader and main character, Chana-Malka a young orthodox Jewish woman, slows down time to such a degree that the story almost ends up more a vignette than a full-fledged story, but it’s worth it, and seems right for this piece. Still, despite its simplicity, the piece is vividly observed, as when Chana-Malka goes for a nighttime swim (fully clothed in a long skirt) in a lake, and Monheit writes: “She collapsed onto her back, directly in the moon’s spotlight. She was a sea creature, catching and releasing puffy air pockets under the shirt she still wore, until she let go and the wet fabric clung to her body.”

Back ashore, she unwittingly finds herself sopping and hiding, watching a couple reuniting, sexually, as the woman bathes herself after her menstrual period has concluded. It’s at once intimate and invasive, Chana-Malka is drawn into the erotic moment almost against her will, as voyeur. Always, though, the language remains precise and the sensory details are vivid, crisp. It’s a wonderful story, and I look forward to reading more from Monheit.”




From Mikveh.org:                

 “The code of family purity mandates that a couple refrain from all physical contact (even holding hands) from the onset of the wife’s menstrual period (a minimum of five days) and continuing an additional seven days after the period has ceased. Then she is to bathe her body and hair thoroughly, cut her finger and toe nails short so that they cannot have a vestige of dirt and remove all foreign objects such as make-up, jewelry and bandages.”

“Finally, she must totally immerse herself three times in the Mikvah while reciting a special prayer. With immersion, the woman is considered spiritually purified and renewed.”

“It is said that the rite is intended to give G-d’s sanctification to the physical relationship and to elevate the sexual act to a holy plane.”



For once, the normally aggressive screen door accommodated her restraining hold and closed with a sigh rather than its standard bang. So far, so good. All Chana-Malka had to do now was negotiate the decrepit bungalow’s front porch, a minefield of dolls, Lego pieces, under-inflated balls, and the line of baby strollers splattered with human effluvium coated in goldfish crumbs.

She made her way like a thief in the dark, or what she imagined was like a thief in the dark, or even better, a Native American tracker who roamed this land with superior understanding of its secrets. Yes. That was much better.

The lake was still after its long day of hosting its annual summer invaders, human and insect. She sat down to remove her shoes and knee-socks, hardly Native American tracking gear. She sunk her newly released toes into the coarse sand, curling and spreading them so the tiny particles could scrape and scratch her city-soft skin. She stood, stretched her arms wide, then inched her way closer to the water, stepping in up to her knees. When her modesty-mandated long skirt weighed her down, she sank beneath the water’s surface to tug it off and toss it to the shore, leaving her buoyant and weightless in the water that instantly closed in to caress her newly exposed lower body. No big deal, a bath.  Ha, nothing at all like a bath.

She collapsed onto her back, directly in the moon’s spotlight. She was a sea creature, catching and releasing puffy air pockets under the shirt she still wore, until she let go and the wet fabric clung to her body. The moon shone on her and she shone for it. When her fingers became shriveled and gnarled like those of the ancient women who clustered over the kiddush tables in shul, she made her way back to shore, reaching for her skirt and reversing her struggle, all while under the water, despite the deserted lakeshore. It was until she was fully dressed that she left the water’s protective shield to plop onto the sand to tug on her resistant knee socks and sneakers. Her teeth chattered and her heart hammered, not from the summer night’s chill and her wet clothes, not exactly, but from how she felt when the icy water slicked her legs and thighs, circled her breasts, flowed between her legs.

She froze when she heard some sound. Then ran to the nearby lounge chairs, stopping at the picnic table where in daylight mothers in snoods and flowery housedresses spent hours monitoring their kids’ play. She cowered between a tree trunk and one of the wooden benches, breathing hard, waiting to see who, or what, this intruder was.

The sounds she heard were human. Where could she go? Run to the woods? Wait until whatever, whoever it was, left. Sneak away while they were too distracted to see her. Climb the tree?

Why hadn’t she at least brought a towel? With all the towels they used every day who would notice one more wet one? Ema with her secret laundry radar would know immediately. Why hadn’t she worn a bathing suit under her clothes, why hadn’t she taken her clothes off before she went into the water–because, because. Because that would be admitting something.

Admitting what?

That’s when she saw them, a man and a woman setting up camp on the beach as though it was a normal thing to be doing in middle of the night. He was in the standard black and white uniform, payis wrapped behind his ears, black yarmulka on his head, but, shockingly, his toes were on full display in open beach slippers. Her head was wrapped in a loose-fitting snood, and she was in a white voluminous housedress, appropriately tznius. But seconds later, in the full moonlight, it turned gauzy and completely transparent and she was absolutely naked beneath it. Chana-Malka could make out the outline of tight breasts, a flat stomach, the dark patch between crazy-long shapely legs.

Chana-Malka leaned her back against the tree she was hiding beneath, sealing her eyes shut. She shouldn’t be here. She shouldn’t see this. None of it.

On the other hand, why not?

Maybe she was supposed to be exactly here, exactly now?

She re-opened her eyes.

He was laying out a large blanket, spreading and anchoring it with what looked like water glasses. A picnic? At midnight? Okay, a little strange, but nothing wrong, nothing SINFUL. Then they walked together to the water’s edge; he carried a towel in the hand that was between them. They stopped when they reached the water, standing at least a foot apart.

Chana-Malka held her breath, her eyes locked open. It was as if there was an invisible string tugging between them, but neither of them took one step closer to the other.

Abruptly, as if that string snapped, the woman yanked off the snood and dress, long dark hair cascading over her bare shoulders. She stood fully exposed to the night, to the moonlight, to the man she stood in front of. The man who still stood at least a foot away from her. Chana-Malka was pretty sure she could see his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. Standing on his spot like he’d grown roots, but with his arms still free, he pulled a flashlight from his pocket and ran it over all of her body. Inspecting her. All of her. And she stood equally straight and tall, holding out her hands, palms facing up, then down, allowing the light to land on each fingertip. Then she moved, turning all around, lifting her arms as the light’s beam ran up one arm, under her arm pit, across her shoulder and onto the other side, then back down her arms, and across her back. She reached for her dress lying in a heap at the water’s edge and pulled something from a pocket. She raised the item, apparently a comb, and ran it through her very long hair, and then, to Chana-Malka’s astonishment, through the hair between her legs. All while he watched, motionless except for his flashlight pointing directly on her movements. The beam worked its way down her legs to her feet, which she lifted one at a time, pointing then arching each one, a tiny dance as the light followed from her ankle to her toes.

Finally he pointed the light toward her face, at an angle though, careful not to blind her. Some unspoken signal passed between them and she ran into the water, not with timid steps like Chana-Malka had. She ran straight forward, Chana-Malka’s chest rising and falling with each step, knowing how cold the water was, amazed at how certain this woman was. She dove in, head first, then her head bobbed up and down, three times, until she stood still, shoulders and head just above the water’s surface.

She laid one hand on her head. The other seemed to caress her chest and in a loud clear voice, loud enough for Chana-Malka to hear every word, loud enough to reach the heavens–obviously her intention, certainly loud enough for that man to hear, and a wonder that the whole bungalow colony didn’t come running out, she uttered, “Bah-rookh ah-tah ah-doh-noi eh-loh-hay-noo meh-lekh ha-oh-lahm ah-sher ki-deh-shah-noo be-mitz-voh-tahv veh-tzee-vah-noo ahl hah-teh-vee-lah”

The bracha for immersion. The immersion that marked the end of the seven bloodless days following the last sign of any menstrual flow. The immersion that purified her and released her back to her husband.

The woman in the lake turned around and unhurriedly, languidly, walked, no, sauntered, toward the shore. More like the water carried her, depositing her onto the sandy beach where her partner, her husband, for surely that was who he was, waited to receive her with the spread open towel. She walked into it and his arms cocooned around her, wrapping her inside its dry warmth. She leaned her back into his chest, he unrolled the towel, using a part of it to wipe her long hair in tender strokes. She turned around, letting him dab at her uplifted face. It was a dance, slow and unhurried. Chana-Malka’s breathing came faster. The leaves on the trees shuddered with her breath. With their dance. With that same slow and tender deliberation, he wiped her arms, one at a time, then her shoulders, her chest, her waist.

He bent to dry her belly, lower, between her legs, and Chana-Malka put her hand to her mouth when it looked like he was planting small kisses, first on her belly, then working his way down. This woman, this recipient of this, this…Attention? The only comparison was to her mother, who Chana Malka knew bathed her babies with more efficiency than affection, certainly not with this level of adoration. This woman, this object of such evident longing, balanced herself with her hands on his shoulders, to lift first one foot then the other so he could dry each and every one of her toes. Finally, working his way back up to her face, his mouth planting his trail up her body, he dropped the towel and from that bag he pulled out a robe which he laid across her shoulders. He didn’t tie the belt, she didn’t put her arms into its sleeves. Holding hands they walked to the blanket where Chana-Malka watched him light candles within those glasses he’d earlier used to secure the blanket. He stood before his wife, an offering in the candle and moonlight.

Still Chana-Malka didn’t. Couldn’t, wouldn’t. Look away.

He unbuttoned his shirt, pulled off his tzizit, folding them carefully. Bare-chested, he pulled off his pants, one leg at a time, and then his white briefs practically removed themselves, Chana-Malka wasn’t sure but he seemed to be bursting through them. Once they were off, she saw his penis–as Heshie’s constant babysitter she was all too familiar with that troublesome organ, but THAT was what it grew into? How could they walk? It was so tall and upright like some kind of sword or arrow, as if pointing, guiding him where he wanted to go.

That’s when she shrugged out of her robe and jumped, actually leaped, to meet him, pressing her full length against his. His arms wrapped around her, their faces, mouths, and bodies melding in what had to be a blessed moonlit embrace.

Chana-Malka finally looked away. Reciting the line she, all the girls, knew by heart.

“Hareh At Mekudeshet Le”

The sentence that made, no, elevated, a man and a woman to husband and wife.

“You are made holy onto me.”

Holy. Separate. Cherished.

Chana-Malka looked up. The night sky was fully alive. Twinkling and vibrating.

Simi Monheit started writing after a career in technology, where she fed her writing habit with long, entertaining, and unappreciated emails. She’s a graduate of Stanford’s Online Novel Writing Certificate program. Her work has appeared in JewishFiction.net, The Forward, Moment, Chautauqua, and HerStry.